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story and photos by Ray Alexander
This was the eighth Jeep Jamboree in Scottsdale, Arizona, presented by Airpark Jeep.
Registration for the trail event was held offsite, at I-17 and Carefree Highway. In the past, the trail run has required a lot of micro-management, counting and accounting for the number of people in a group — reassigning the easily intimidated to trails with a lesser degree of difficulty, or “I want to go with my friend in that group,” and on it goes.
This year the format was free-for-all, when you had completed registration you were good to go. Airpark was expecting in excess of 200 entrants for the trail run. A new problem proved to be registration ran too slowly. To get the first card of your poker hand a dart was thrown at balloons affixed to a sheet of plywood, a deflated balloon revealed a card. The contestant was given a sheet of paper with 52 cards represented and the card under the busted balloon identified by stamping. I arrived just before 7:30 and registration was already underway, with a significant line. The first person I met was Daniela, a new employee for Airpark.
Jason De Monto, proprietor of Jeep customization company Trail Concepts, is the key person for this event, and very shortly he rolled into my field of view. He was to find me a seat for the trail run, and quickly informed me that I was riding with him (see video below).
An hour later the line for registration was actually longer. Jason had a devious plan for getting to the front of the pack, but this was working against that plan. Jason decided it was time to leave. The rear seat was occupied by “Sleeping Beauty,” Tabatha. She is Jason’s daughter and started off-roading at the age of five weeks.
The first instruction on the trail map was travel 38 miles west on Highway 74, turn right on Castle Hot Springs Road. At about 15 miles out, we saw Jeeps turning right off 74. Castle Hot Springs Road makes a huge U, and these guys are now going backward on the trail using forward directions. An advanced course in navigation is needed for dealing with this situation. All the communications that could be seen or heard, succinctly addressed the quality of the map. The guys going backward arrived at the paintball challenge much sooner than if they had gone forward on the trail. We were definitely better off when we had no cell service.
When we first got dirt between our toes, the road was freshly graded. Jason’s vehicle is the 4.0 liter six-cylinder with an automatic transmission, and on this surface he was able to get a tad of 4 wheel drift. There had recently been a huge rain and the graded portions were in better condition, but the parts not graded remained unchanged.
For a time we followed a Jeep that looked like as the sway bar end link was disconnected. Jason was not able to get close enough to get his attention. I looked for that vehicle at the paint ball stop and couldn’t find it. There was one Range Rover with us, but it avoided the difficult part of the trail.
We followed a Cherokee while nature weaved an intricate lace pattern from dust falling across the rear window.
There were about 100 Jeeps at the paint ball challenge when we arrived. Jason’s plan had gone awry.
At the paint ball challenge, there was a deck of cards stapled to a board with the faces showing. You could see the card you wanted, but you couldn’t hit it. One of the guys manning this said, “In paintball the best thing to do is spray and pray.” People using nitrous oxide at the drag strip use the same phrase, we are praying to not hit anything and please don’t blow up this $X,000 engine. There was a street sign at this location with several large caliber bullet holes. Paint ball was not responsible for the holes.
From paint ball forward was the serious part of the run, 32” tires and skid plate(s) were required. The large tires ran across V cuts very easily and gave a much smoother ride as compared to the 15” tires on my van. We ran several miles in that direction before we encountered a traffic jam. The rain also erased the history of travel where one could take alternate trails, now the driver was forced to decide.
At this particular sticky point, the driver had stayed in the wash too long and was attempting to negotiate this narrow cut. The roadbed was a minimum of four feet higher than the wash. I saw two attempts while I walked toward the action, both failed with the Jeep virtually vertical on the tailgate. I thought I would get closer for a better picture, but on the third attempt he bounced out. Note to self: a bad picture is better than no picture and you have this thing called zoom.
We turned around and headed back, this was a shorter distance to the Jet Ski challenge. We met several Jeeps, some in more thrilling spots than others. Paint ball had closed shop and there was no evidence that anything had happened there. Even the rock covered with snot green paint was gone.
As the wash graded out to smaller rocks, Jason began to increase speed. I decided to not try shooting video instead, I concentrated on staying in the Jeep. Tabatha slept through this. Out on top with a lake view we decided to head back to the dealership.
Jason is a man with a Jeep and he demonstrated that he knew how to use it. I surrendered the passenger seat in roughly the same condition as it was when we left.
It had not been long since I participated in the Silver State Classic Challenge and wrote about it for Allpar. I have always gone to the track where rookies are qualified, my primary focus on Mopars. This year saw a good group of rookies (29) and the worst crop of Mopars ever. I was required to count a Fiat Abarth to get three; the others were a Viper and a B5 blue Superbee SRT8 Charger.
I chatted with the Abarth driver, who had run the car at Willow Springs the day before. When the cars took the track the Fiat was behind a C5 Corvette, and was nagging the Corvette’s rear bumper. When the Corvette hit a straightaway, it accelerated away from the Fiat, but two turns later guess who was back. This whetted my appetite to drive one.
Back at the dealership it wasn’t long before I bumped into Mr. Coye Pointer, the General Manager. We talked about the growth of this event. He said he had over 1,000 emails concerning the event; he then told me about a promotion held in December: “Buy a car, get a guitar.” Alice Cooper is a personal friend; Coye bought 20 guitars, had Alice Cooper sign them, and gave them to customers purchasing a car.
I then told Coye about the Fiat and the Corvette at Silver State and said that I would like to drive one. Coye replied, “Absolutely not a problem.” (Coming next week: Ray’s Fiat 500 Abarth test drive.)
Several vendors attend this event, some with NASCAR style sales trailers, some can put their specialty items on a single table. Some do modifications that make me wonder.
If you want a snow cat, maybe you should buy a snow cat, but then you couldn’t convert it to a Jeep. Mount Lemmon between Phoenix and Tucson goes over 8,000’ and does get snow.
New things for this year were paintball, jet-ski, a zip line, and face painting.
About mid-afternoon I bumped into Daniela and got an exasperated inquiry, “When is this thing over?”
I simply pointed at the western horizon and said, “When the sun goes down.”
I was wandering around and came upon this scene. Aaron Rainbolt was using Tyler Geist’s Jeep in what I thought was a disrespectful manner. I asked Tyler, “Why do you allow him to abuse your vehicle like this?” I was actually trying to get at least an argument going.
Tyler just hung his head and said, “There is nothing I can do to control him.”
These guys ran the full length of the course. I told them about my test drive and convinced Aaron to do a test drive. I wanted to see how they reacted with no help from Mr. Pointer. They passed with flying colors. Aaron also did his test drive alone. He came back glowing about the fun factor. Later, he drove my car.
Another thing that I missed during the ramp challenge was David Cessna’s overturn. In the ramp challenge the left front tire is hung at the edge of the ramp surface. The height that a driver can achieve is governed by the wheelbase and the air pressure the driver assigns to various wheels, the left front and right rear are critical. David has won the event in the past, but today his CJ5 rolled over in the parking lot. Undaunted and in true Jeeper fashion he wanted to try it again. He changed his mind when he found he didn’t have power steering.
This was the first Airpark Jeep Jam for Chris Cronan. He was headed for a Jeep event in California’s Johnson Valley, but the variety offered here changed his mind. He has a 2010 Rubicon. I asked him why he chose the Rubicon. Chris also ran the full length of the course.
He answered very quickly, “Because of the off-road locking hubs.”
The sun to sun fun was about used up and it was time to announce the winning poker hand.
Bo Boyce had a heart flush. She definitely had a winning hand here.
Airpark does a magnificent job with this event. The logistics are staggering and it appears to run seamlessly. No two have been the same, next year we may have a sky diving challenge or a slalom challenge.
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